Facebook Almost Sold Its Portal Tech To Amazon Alexa Devices

In November, Meta announced it would be discontinuing the Portal, its stand-alone video-chatting device. The decision came as Meta announced its first-ever mass layoffs amid a falling stock price and concern over its ambitions in the metaverse.

Over the years, BuzzFeed News’ coverage of Meta and Facebook has been unflinchingly rigorous and at times adversarial. Our reviews of the Portal have also spoken the truth: This was a truly outstanding product. We loved it. I loved it. Rest in power, Portal — you were a good little device. 

The Portal was born into a harsh world. Released in fall 2018, the Cambridge Analytica pseudo-scandal — about Facebook’s botched user-data handling and (in hindsight) overstated claims about its influence on the 2016 elections — was still fresh in the public’s mind. It was also still fresh in the minds of the tech press that would be reviewing the devices. For many, the idea of allowing a Facebook gadget that was an always-on camera into your home was akin to sending your Pornhub history directly to the Kremlin. 

Despite this, the Portal did sell well, Andrew Bosworth, CTO of Meta, told BuzzFeed News in an interview. (Meta declined to disclose exact sales figures, but Bosworth put the number of units sold in the “millions.”) And crucially, Bosworth added, “This was a product that the people who bought it, fucking loved it.” And it appealed to a different demographic than most gadgets: It sold far more with women and people over 40. 

Ultimately, the decision to pull the plug came because executives didn’t see a path to the Portal becoming a massive business (instead of just a nice business), and with shifting priorities at Meta, it didn’t make the cut. “We’re super sad about it,” Bosworth said. “You know the saying, ‘It’s not prioritization unless it hurts’? This one hurts.” (It’s not a total loss though: Existing Portal devices will continue to work and receive support.)

Bosworth said that “the entire smart home category has underwhelmed expectations for a while now.” He added, “I think if you go back to where we expected smart home to be as an industry when Portal entered the market versus where it is today, it’s just not been nearly successful as we expected.”

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